Walk into Boston’s historic North End neighborhood and you’ll instantly feel transported into the streets of Italy. The North End is literally the oldest neighborhood in the entire country! How’s that for some historic value?! Salem and Hanover Streets are the center of the action, lined exclusively with Italian restaurants, interrupted only for the many churches that hold their place of religious significance in this neighborhood.
On the sidewalk near a cafe is a pack of four old men, shouting as they debate something. They’re speaking Italian but the passion in their voices and the expressive hand gesturing make me feel I understand what they’re discussing. Perhaps a business deal or Italian politics, though it’s more likely related to the futbol match airing on the television in the cafe. As I peer into the cafe I see hoards of passionate futbol fans with their eyes glued to the television, cheering and speaking at the television as if they were watching in person. Young men and old men, families with children, and all of the waitstaff, gather around with espresso shot glasses in hand to watch the soccer match unfold.
The Italian culture is preserved here, and although tourists come flocking to these streets in the afternoon and for dinner, the early morning offers a true feel for the people living in Boston’s Little Italy. If you come to the North End in the morning, you’ll have your choice of cafes for espresso and cappuccinos as well as bakeries where Italian cookies and cannolis and fresh bread send irresistible scents out the front door to lull you in. Mike’s Pastry is the best-known cannoli shop in town, though you’ll have to battle a long line if you don’t time it well. You’ll probably need more than one cannoli during your visit anyway, so try out the competition at Modern and at Bova’s to see which is your favorite! These old-fashioned Italian establishments won’t succumb to the credit card trend, so when you’re going for cafes and bakeries, bring cash.
The North End is a historically-rich neighborhood, so as you wander off the main road with Italian cookies in hand, you’ll enjoy gazing at the residences which have stood here for hundreds of years (including that of Paul Revere!). The Freedom Trail runs through the North End, including a stop at the Old North Church. One if by land, two if by sea. It was the Old North Church steeple that signaled to Paul Revere and his compatriots that the British were coming! You can take a tour of the whole Freedom Trail or just of the Old North Church, and if you want to experience it like the people who lived here hundreds of years ago, stay for mass service!
This beautiful and vibrant neighborhood sits against the water, so you can take a stroll to the waterfront during your visit as well! After a long day of walking around these storied streets, try one of the North End’s best restaurants for some lasagna, bolognese, pizza napoletano, ravioli, pomodoro, linguine ala vongole, and more! My absolute favorite is La Dolce Vita, where you can expect your pasta and wine to come with a serenade from the sweet old Italian man that owns the restaurant playing his accordion. If you don’t get there early enough to grab a table (or have two nights in town!), try my other favorites: Bacco’s, Benevento’s, & Florentine. You could spend weeks trying every restaurant the North End, and you certainly should!
For a touch of Italy in Boston, head to the North End. Enjoy the history and culture, the Italian neighborhood pride, the cafe culture, the endless offerings of Italian sweets, and the savory gastronomic delight of Italian dinner made exactly as you’d find it in the kitchens of Italy!